Thoughts on Patriarchy

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I have received some complaints that my interaction with Phil Ryken (see below, 1/29/07) on patriarchy represents a capitulation on the issue of biblically-mandated male leadership.  My comment on use of the term "patriarchy" was made more or less in passing, so it may be helpful for me to expand a little.

My basic point was that the word "patriarchy" down-loads some ideas that go beyond the biblical warrant for male leadership.  What I meant by that is that Old Testament patriarchy (Abraham, etc.) involved the leadership of the senior man over an extended family, including grandchildren, daughters-in-law, etc.  As I understand things, male leadership properly extends to one's own family.  When I place one of my daughter's hand into the arm of some young man in the wedding ceremony, my headship over her ends -- it is transferred to her husband.  Likewise, when my sons marry, I do not believe I will have biblical warrant for exercising authority over their families.  I do not know if anyone is advocating such things today, but my point is that the term "patriarchy" invokes (for me at least) some of these social arrangements. Moreover, I would point out that so far as I am aware, "patriarchy" is not a biblical term.  Therefore, our job is to rightly represent the concept that the Bible is teaching, and I just don't think "patriarchy" is the best term to represent the biblical ideal of male leadership (see above).

I admit that my main concern in gender issues in the church today has to do with encroaching feminism, which I believe is harmful both to men and women and does not follow the Bible's teaching.  But I do think there is some excess zeal on the other side -- on the side of patriachy, that is.  One practice that concerns me is the idea of "household membership" in some churches.  I think it is pretty neat, actually, to hold "head of household" meetings, if the intent is to reinforce the role of the covenant family in the church.  I would think that this sends the message that heads of household -- whether they are husbands, single moms, or adult singles -- have an obligation to the church to lead their households spiritually.  But it troubles me when wives no longer possess a vote as church members.  Does this not risk sending a signal that they do not have standing in the church as Christian individuals? 

This falls under the category of individual and corporate Christianity, which is much discussed these days.  I would agree that for a long time we have neglected corporate and covenantal ideas of Christian experience.  But let's not flee to the other extreme, emphasizing the corporate in a way that practically denies individual church membership and Christian experience.  Likewise, while I stand in strong support of the Bible's mandate for male leadership in the church and home, let's not put it into practice in ways that suggest that women have a lesser standing in either.
Posted February 5, 2007 @ 1:15 PM by Rick Phillips

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